While at this years Sea Otter we ran across a company, Alto Cycling. Alto Cycling makes some prey high tech hoops and so we took some time to hang out with them and pretty soon it was obvious that this was no ordinary wheel company. The first clue was when Bill Shook came over and hung out chatting with them for about 40 min asking questions and giving compliments on their hubs. If you know who Bill is then you know this is high praise. It’s really important that you get the know the company that you are getting your wheels from. Who are they? Are they engineers or are they owners of some wheel robots? So we set out with some questions to find out who is Alto cycling and how they came to be.
Bobby tell me how you got into cycling and how you and Shawn met? I began riding in 2004 after an injury ended my high school running career. I worked from a cat 5 to a cat 1 over a period of two years, and signed my first pro contract with Nerac in 2006 at the age of 18. I met Shawn at about this time, towards the end of high school, and he had just started riding as a way to stay in shape. He was a competitive golfer throughout high school. We both went to the University of Florida and began training together on a regular basis. And of course we were taking the same classes as mechanical engineers, so we spent a lot of time together in class and on the bike.
When did you start getting interested in bike parts? Fast forward to our junior year of college, and Shawn and I are sharing an apartment with two other cyclists, all engineering students. We'd continually have issues about various parts on our bikes, wondering why they were design the way they were and how they could be better. But of course it was just for fun, and nobody ever thought it would come to mean anything. Shawn and I graduated with honors, which meant we had to do a senior thesis to receive the distinction. We decided to design a front brake for a road bike, but hydraulically actuated and housed inside of the fork/headtube. It was one of the first integrated brake designs in the world, although it didn't function all that well! We hand machined the parts in the UF lab and presented it to our professors, who seemed to like it! But it was very much a prototype. But the one thing I didn't know was that that project would be instrumental in my getting a job at CSG the following year. After graduation, my plan was to race full time with the Land Rover/Orbea team. Unfortunately the economic landscape wasn't so good in 2009, and Land Rover pulled sponsorship very late in the year, leaving us scrambling. Without a pro team to race for, I applied to work at CSG (Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose) and got the job, which was everything I ever wanted. Who doesn't want to design bikes!? Shawn stayed at UF to get his master's degree in solid mechanical design and I moved off to Connecticut with my wife.
You told me that you raced as a pro roddie when did that happen? After two years at CSG I had been getting some good results on the international pro circuit and received an offer that would allow me to leave my "day job." I did so with the blessing of Chris Peck, the VP of R&D, with him telling me that the doors would always be open for me to return. I'll be forever thankful to him for that, because it made my decision a lot easier! Shawn signed a pro contract around this time as well, and we were both fully focuses on our racing careers for a couple of years.
When did you thoughts turn to wheel and hub design? But during this time we had started discussing some of the designs that we had kicked around for the last 10 years. Shawn's concept was regarding wheels, and rear hub shells in particular: why is every rear hub shaped differently? They're all under the same load on every bike, so technically there should be one correct answer to rear hub shell geometry, lacing pattern, rim laminate structure, etc. We used Matlab to program these variables and patent the results, which we then presented to our friend Tom Frost. He was a local business owner (Datum Corp, which he recently sold), and cyclist, and if we were going to do anything we were going to need money. Bike racers don't make much money! He believed in us and has gave us the funds to get our product line up and running. SeaSucker (the bike rack company) was also a huge key in this process, as they lent us a lot of time on their machines over the course of a full year, completely for free. Without Tom and SeaSucker, we certainly wouldn't exist.
So how did you come up with your hub design and what makes it so good? We essentially looked at the rear wheel in general and wondered why every hub shell was shaped differently when every wheel was under the same type of load. Technically, there is one correct answer to hub geometry, and no reason why every brand should be different. It should be standardized, really. So we programmed all of the variables (flange spacing, flange diameter, lacing pattern, hole count, material choice, etc) into Matlab and ran an optimization problem on the program. By changing one variable at a time, we could see how they affected lateral movement at the rim under normal riding loads. It took a few months to finalize the geometry, and then we set about prototyping, testing, and eventually finding enough money to be able to take it to production. Everything else (the rim depths, laminate structure, bearing choices, etc) grew out from there and were based around that initial program to develop the correct rear hub geometry.